Patients “Misled” by Clinics Using Egg Freezing

According to a fertility charity, some UK clinics are providing inaccurate information to women considering egg freezing.

The Fertility Network responded to BBC analysis indicating that 41% of clinics providing the service privately might be violating advertising guidelines.

The watchdog that establishes guidelines states that clinics should not provide inaccurate or deceptive information.

It coincides with a surge in the number of individuals choosing to freeze their eggs.

The Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) in the UK expressed concerns about the information provided to individuals contemplating egg freezing.

There is no guarantee of a successful pregnancy with the procedure.

Freezing eggs for reasons unrelated to medical issues, commonly referred to as social egg freezing, is a growing trend among women who wish to maintain their fertility for future childbearing.

This procedure is typically not offered through the NHS unless it is necessary due to medical reasons like chemotherapy or gender reassignment.

In the UK, the number of egg freezing procedures increased significantly from around 400 in 2011 to over 4,000 in 2021, as reported by HFEA.

When someone is ready to start a family, frozen eggs can be thawed and utilized in fertility procedures like IVF.

Every case is unique, with various factors affecting a patient’s likelihood of conceiving, including age, health, egg freezing success, thawing process, and sperm quality.

Analyzed by the BBC were the websites of 78 fertility clinics in the UK that offer private egg freezing services.

Out of the 32 websites we reviewed, 41% failed to provide clear information about a patient’s likelihood of successfully conceiving in the future.

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Among that group, the majority of the websites promoted high thaw success rates of 80-95% – a procedure involving the defrosting of eggs for fertility treatments.

However, the clinics failed to communicate that the likelihood of successfully having a baby is significantly reduced due to the various stages involved in the process leading up to a successful embryo implantation in fertility treatments like IVF.

“I am very frustrated for patients because they are being misguided by this level of information,” expressed Dr. Catherine Hill from the charity, The Fertility Network.

There have been few cases in the UK where patients have returned to use their frozen eggs. However, the success rates for these cases are slightly lower than IVF with fresh eggs, typically ranging from 20-30% per round depending on age. For individuals in their 40s, the rate could drop to as low as 5%, as reported by HFEA.

According to the BBC analysis, 31 clinics shared defrost rates without clarifying the number of patients the data was from or citing their sources.

The government watchdog, the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA), has provided guidance on the information that should be displayed on clinic websites.

Egg freezing involves a substantial financial and emotional investment, requiring patients to be well-informed about success rates and expenses.

The BBC interviewed over 30 women who had experienced the procedure for the documentary Egg Freezing and Me. They found it to be costly and intrusive, yet also empowering.

Some individuals believed they were not adequately briefed by clinics regarding the actual expenses of egg freezing or their likelihood of success.

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I felt isolated

At the age of 39, Natalie Thomas made the decision to freeze her eggs at a private fertility clinic. However, she found it challenging to grasp her likelihood of having a baby based on the clinic’s provided information.

Natalie, a science teacher with a background in statistics and data, described her experience as a solitary journey where she had to take the lead and conduct her own research.

Upon further investigation, Natalie found out on the fertility regulator’s website that the clinic she had selected had lower success rates for pregnancy in comparison to the national average.

“If I had been aware of this information earlier, I probably wouldn’t have hesitated to go to that clinic,” she remarks.

In 2020, Natalie decided to live with her mum to cut costs for her egg freezing procedure. Two years later, at the age of 41, she felt prepared to start a family.

She spent a total of £18,500 on medication, two rounds of egg retrieval, two years of storage, and IVF treatment. She underwent the IVF procedure at a separate private clinic.

Following a successful pregnancy, she welcomed her son, Huxley, in March of last year.

Natalie and Huxley, her son

We presented our analysis to the British Fertility Society, an organization for professionals in the field.

A spokesperson expressed worries about the display of “unusually high” defrost rates on certain websites without providing any explanation for their basis.

Dr Ippokratis Sarris raised concerns about whether the statistics might be based on a selective group of patients, which he described as poor practice.

“It creates unrealistic expectations for patients and puts other clinics at a disadvantage by not being open and transparent,” he stated.

When patients visit a clinic, the doctor emphasized the importance of discussing their individual chances of success. Additionally, the doctor highlighted the necessity for clinic websites to provide transparent information without any misleading details.

According to the HFEA, clinics must ensure that patients receive all necessary information to make informed decisions. It said it was concerned that does not always happen. It wants expanded regulatory authority to impose fines on clinics.

According to a spokesperson from the Competition and Markets Authority, fertility clinics are required to provide information that is clear, timely, and easy to understand.

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“We explain our position in the CMA’s Guidance for Fertility Clinics regarding consumer law.” Claims about egg freezing success rates may be misleading if they lack proof, do not clarify the impact of age on outcomes, or do not differentiate between egg survival rates and live birth rates.

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